Solvay is now actively promoting the development of innovative junior companies in the areas of chemicals, plastics and pharmaceutical products, by allowing them access to its Research & Technology Centre at Neder-over-Heembeek, in Brussels.
"Solvay believes this attitude of openness to be of prime importance. It is inherent to the development of industrial research in general," said Luigi Belli, director general of Research and Technology.
"As a result of the acceleration of technological developments and the increase of research costs, companies are starting to look for external resources, complementary to their own expertise. Today, these start-ups are our scouts and the seeds of the external development we want to encourage," said Belli.
Big pharma companies and biotechnology firms are increasingly merging their resources, combining technologies and know-how to create partnerships that can spread the cost, and reduce the risk of any drug development venture.
According to a recent report by IMS, pharmaceutical pipelines are at a 25-year low and the biotech industry is making an increasing contribution to the industry. In 2004, 27 per cent of new drugs were derived from biotechnology.
Big pharmaceutical companies are only responsible for generating around 19 per cent of the biotech products. Therefore, they are having to licensing these products from smaller biotech companies as a means to fill development pipelines. Out of the 31 new drugs launched in 2004, 22 were the subject of at least one licensing deal, said the report.
As biotech companies are increasingly demanding a bigger slice of the pie, big drug companies are now having to pay increasingly high amounts - hundreds of millions of dollars - to biotech companies to in-license a product, in even preclinical development.
This, coupled with in-house R&D productivity problems, is driving the big firms to adopt a partnership approach to small biotech companies from the early stages.
"The partnerships between big pharma and biotech companies are likely to be the trendsetters in the industry," said Barath Shankar S, Frost & Sullivan research analyst.
"With the technical expertise of biotechnology companies and the marketing skills of big pharmas, the collaborations are expected to be very successful," he added.
Under Solvay's new project, start-up companies are offered high-tech research space as well as access to the scientific and technological expertise they need for their development. This allows the companies to remain independent and to keep full intellectual property rights.
Brussels-based Artelis, created in August 2005, focuses on innovative developments in the technologies for the biopharmaceutical industry and more particularly in the processes of cell cultures. The company has recently developed a single use bioreactor.
"Being able to participate in this project really is an exceptional opportunity. It allows us to benefit on one single site from an industrial environment and top quality scientific and technical know-how," said José Castillo, technical manager of Artelis.